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O. Henry's Incredible Time-Travel Adventure!

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(Pre-English 127)

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O. Henry's Incredible
Time-Travel Adventure!!!!!

The MEN of LETTERS!O. Henry pulled the sheet of paper from his typewriter and placed it face down on the stack of pages on his desk, picked up the whole stack, turned it over, and smiled as he read the not-quite-proper-English title out loud to himself: "The Unremarked Grave."

This was it. This was the story that would pull him out his tailspin, the story that would convince the world that he was more than an ex-con with a clever twist or two up his once-crooked sleeve. The story that would make him the most celebrated author of his time- and he knew it.

He carefully fed the manuscript into a manila envelope, then put on his coat and went to the door. But before he could open it, something made him pause. The room seemed charged with static. He saw his shadow become more defined on the door, and spun around to discover the source of the light, which had become so bright, so blisteringly hot, that he was forced to shield his eyes with his forearm.

The light faded, the heat dissipated, and O. Henry found himself suddenly in the company of four strangers.

"Who." O. Henry managed to spit out.

"Who are we?" one man, apparently the leader, offered. O. Henry nodded. The stranger laughed. "An excellent question, with an excellent answer. My name is H.G. Wells, and we have traveled here in a time machine of my own creation. These are my compatriots."

Each man introduced himself:

"C.S. Lewis. A pleasure to make your acquaintance."

e.e. cummings, at your service.

"F. Scott Fitzgerald, sir."

O. Henry stared at the group, bewildered. They smiled back, patiently waiting for the gigantic chunks of information they had just fed to O. Henry to be broken down into digestible chunks. Finally, he felt able to form a complete sentence.

"Why are you here?"

"My dear O., we are here because we need your help. We want you to join our society: The Men of Letters ."

The rest of the group took turns explaining. First up was e.e.:

some writers choose
to use
initials instead of
given names
when taking credit

Then F.: ".and sometimes, these initialed authors create works so inspiring, so breathtaking, that the entire world takes notice."

Then C.S.: ".and when that happens, The Men of Letters spring into action to protect the author."

And back to H.G.: ".and you joined the ranks of the protected the moment you finished the story you hold in that envelope- the story that will lead you to a life of fame and fortune."

"Wait a minute- Why do I need to be protected?"

The Men of Letters looked nervously at each other for a moment. C.S. broke the silence. "You see, my good fellow- someone is traveling through time and murdering initialed authors after they create their signature work. We've banded together in an attempt to protect ourselves- but we've been less than successful. We've just witnessed the corpse of J.D. Salinger."

e.e. spoke, his face turned away from the group:

the poor man died
choking
on a fistful of rye

"Yes, yes, very sad stuff," interrupted F., "but we need to let that go and protect ourselves. We're hoping your keen mind and knack for finding hidden connections in stories will help us find the killer. Are you with us, O.?"

O. paused dramatically, because it seemed like the right thing to do at this point in the story, then spoke: "Gentlemen- it would be an honor to help you catch this villain."

But catching the killer proved to be more difficult than The Men of Letters expected. Not only were they unable to protect any other writers- they were unable even to protect themselves. e.e. was the first one to go- found dead in his room, a shift key lodged in his throat. Next it was C.S.- his body stuffed into a wardrobe. Then H.G., the assumed leader, was crushed by a model of Mars.

O. sat silently trying to figure out what to do next. F. walked into the room, an odd smirk on his oily face. "Well, it seems The Men of Letters have been severely abbreviated- down to just one: O."

"What are you talking about? There are two of us: O. Henry, that's me, and F. Scott Fitzgerald- you."

F. laughed the hearty laugh that self-exposed villains so love. "Fool! F. Scott Fitzgerald is dead, buried in a pink suit in a shallow grave."

"Then who are you?"

"My name is F. Murray Abraham. When I was refused membership in The Men of Letters because I am 'merely an actor,' I vowed to take my revenge on those who had slighted me. And do you know what made me take Fitzgerald's place? The story you were finishing when we first met. It was so perfectly ironic that I felt inspired. What could be more perfect than an actor playing a writer, killing actual writers because they hate actors?"

"Why tell me this now?"

"Because I wanted to gloat, and it's too late for you to stop me."

"I may not be able to stop you- but I can stop me!"

With that, O. leapt past F. and into the time machine. Before he could be stopped, O. set the controls and took off through time, back to his apartment moments before the Men of Letters appeared. The older O. grabbed the very surprised younger O. (and his story), clamped a hand over his mouth and dragged him into a nearby closet. "I know this seems fantastic and strange," whispered the older O., "but you must trust me. We must- wait! They're coming!"

Both O.s watched as bright light grew around the cracks of the door, then faded. Through the door, they could hear the muffled conversation of the Men of Letters.

"Hello? Mr. Henry? Are you here?"

"O.?"

he is not here
we have missed him

"That's impossible!"

"We'd better return to our headquarters and check our computations."

Then the light flared around the door again, and the room was silent.

The elder O. opened the closet door, removed his hand from the younger O.'s mouth, and the matched set of O. Henrys walked back into the room.

"I think this would be an excellent time for an explanation." And so, the older O. told the younger one everything. When he was done speaking, the younger O. looked long and hard at his counterpart, then finally asked: "Well, what can we do?"

"The solution is obvious. F. Murray Abraham was inspired to commit these acts by the story we just wrote. If the story never appears, the inspiration never appears, and F. Murray Abraham remains a frustrated actor instead of becoming a vicious destroyer of literature."

"But this is the greatest story I've- we've - ever written! I can't just destroy it."

"Oh, I know how much this hurts, but for the good of mankind, the story must be destroyed."

Young O. looked down at the envelope in his hands, then at his doppelganger, and back down. He spoke as tore the envelope up: "You're right, of course. One story isn't worth all that death."

The elder O. nodded and smiled, then faded away. The writers were safe. F. Murray Abraham would never become a psychotic killer. A happy ending was had by all- except for one man.

O. Henry tried to put the destruction of his masterwork behind him, but the ghost of his perfect story haunted him. He became afraid to write, worried that he might accidentally recreate the tale that doomed The Men of Letters. He sank into depression and poverty, and died alone, unknown, buried in an unremarked grave.